Washington, June 3 : Parents may be able to tell when their children are learning just by paying a heed to his/her 'gaze aversion', say researchers.
University of Stirling researcher Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon says that while involved in a complex task, people tend to look away from those surrounding them, and this is referred to as gaze aversion.
She has revealed that she is studying how to use changes in a child's gaze aversion to understand his/her educational progress, and has looked at gaze aversion in both children and adults in a study funded by Economic and Social Research Council.
So far, she has found that children aged four to six are more likely to avert their gaze when they are carrying out a task that they find difficult or new to them, and that kids avert their gaze less if they are being tested by someone they know.
Dr. Doherty-Sneddon has also observed that among children aged five to eight, gaze aversion is related to the complexity of the task being undertaken, rather than to other stimuli.
She says that the results were consistent for a range of tasks, such as balancing a beam with asymmetrical loads.
"These results are important because they show that children avert their gaze when they are trying to carry out a task which is difficult or with which they are not yet familiar. In our most recent work we have investigated whether gaze aversion is associated with transitional knowledge states. That means that gaze aversion is a useful thing for teachers, carers and parents to know about," Dr Doherty-Sneddon said.
She says that gaze aversion is a positive sign for teachers, for a child doing it is likely to be developing his/her understanding.
She also points out that children who are not improving their performance gaze aversion less often.
Dr Doherty-Sneddon says that looking at gaze aversion may help teachers and social workers understand the mental state of people with conditions like Autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Williams Syndrome, the genetic condition popularly called Cocktail Party Syndrome.
"People with Williams Syndrome have been characterised as being hypersociable and using excessive amounts of eye contact, which is an interesting contrast to people with autism. Our gaze aversion work promises to provide new and important insights into the mental and social functioning of such groups" she says.